White Spaces and Wireless Microphones
For 35 years, wireless microphone technology has allowed users unrestricted on-stage movement and created sophisticated sound. Nonprofit performing arts organizations, commercial theaters, schools, performers, and community media studios have all relied on this equipment operating within the “white space” radio frequencies between broadcast channels of the television band. Wireless systems are also integral to backstage communications used by stagehands. Interference to these backstage communications could compromise the safety of performers, technicians, and audiences.
The FCC ruled on September 23, 2010 that portions of the broadcast spectrum called “white space” would be shared by wireless microphones used in the performing arts and new white space devices (aka TV band devices), such as PDAs, cordless phones, and wireless laptops. In order to implement the rule, the FCC ordered several protection measures including the establishment of a geo-location database (or multiple databases) which would allow the new devices and wireless microphones to share spectrum without interference. In addition, the FCC set aside two safe-haven channels for use by wireless microphones. The FCC allowed the geo-location database to become operational nationwide in December 2012 and allowed new white space devices to operate nationally as of March 2013. As the FCC monitors the effectiveness of these interference protection mechanisms, we encourage the Commission to ensure it protects existing services, including wireless microphones for performers, performing arts organizations, venues, and educational facilities.
What is at Stake
Threats to safe-haven channels designated for wireless microphones:
In 2010, the FCC allocated two unused television channels exclusively to wireless microphones. While setting the current rules for the spectrum incentive auctions, the FCC indicated it was considering eliminating these two designated channels. Some wireless microphone users have advocated that they would have to compete for bandwidth with a growing number of mobile broadband devices and other heavy spectrum users. If these two reserved channels are eliminated, interference for wireless microphone users would increase, compromising their ability to do their work and serve the public.
Interference between devices:
Given the thousands of performances held by arts organizations each year that rely on wireless devices, it is essential that the FCC’s interference protection works successfully. A reliable geo-location database will avoid interference between wireless microphones and TV Band Devices.
High cost of replacing equipment to operate in new spectrum:
In 2010, an FCC rule required wireless microphone users to cease operations in the 700 MHz band of spectrum costing many performing arts organizations an unanticipated $25,000-$100,000 to purchase new equipment able to operate in another band of spectrum.
In an effort to raise federal revenues, the Administration and Congress have authorized spectrum auctions, putting up for sale the rights/licenses to use certain bands of spectrum. After auctions, the FCC will reorganize and repack the spectrum and may require wireless microphones to once again relocate to a different part of the spectrum. If that happens, performing arts organizations may yet again have to purchase new, expensive equipment.
What We Are Asking Right Now
Preserve Two Safe-Haven Channels for Wireless Microphones
In light of the increased potential of interference from mobile broadband, it is essential that the FCC retain the two channels that are designated for wireless microphones. To provide vital, reliable services and clear, reliable, and safe communications via wireless microphones, users such as theatres, churches, sports leagues, and others must have adequate access to spectrum.
Ensure a Reliable Geo-Location Database
We urge the FCC to closely supervise the implementation of the geo-location database and be responsive to any concerns raised by the wireless microphone community. We encourage the Commission to ensure that the database protects wireless microphones and technologies for performers, performing arts organizations, venues, and educational facilities.
Expanding Eligibility for Licenses to Theatres and Other Wireless Microphone Users
The FCC is considering rules that would permit large theatres and other users to apply for licenses. Licensed wireless microphone users (broadcasters and movie studios) have immediate access to database registration. Unlicensed users, including users in the performing arts, need to demonstrate their need for registration and must wait 30 days for public comments. We encourage the Commission to allow these licenses so that users in the performing arts would have the flexibility they need.
Off-set the Cost of Replacing Wireless Microphones
As the FCC creates rules for the spectrum auctions, we urge Congress to consider the burden already borne by the performing arts community. The performing arts community has conservatively estimated that another move within the broadcast spectrum would cost at least $17.5 million in new equipment. We suggest two possibilities for offsetting these costs: (1) Congress appropriate funds to defray the costs of wireless microphone replacement, or (2) the FCC rules that auction winners help pay the cost of displacing wireless microphones from the spectrum they have purchased.
What You Can Do
Register in the National Geo-Location Database
To provide interference protection for wireless microphones, the FCC has developed a national geo-location database in which venues may register the frequencies in which they operate equipment. The database will then instruct any white space device within 400 meters of a registered device to refrain from operating on those frequencies. Registration has been launched nationally.
Since the FCC has launched the geo-location database, it is important that performing arts organizations are up-to-speed with the new procedures and register their intended spectrum use. Please view this public notice from the FCC which thoroughly explains the geo-location database, the registration process, answers questions, and provides FCC contact information. Performing arts organizations using large numbers of wireless microphones are urged to inform their sound engineers and production staff and advise them to register in the database. If you encounter any difficulties, please report back to your respective arts service organization.
Information provided by the Performing Arts Alliance.
APAP is a member of the Performing Arts Alliance.